By Sigrídur Matthíasdóttir & Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir
Note: This article is drawn from a lengthy academic article exploring a little-studied aspect of Icelandic emigration: single women who made the journey to North America. A link to the entire paper is included at the end of this posting.
Anna Sigrídur Gudmundsdóttir Sigbjörnsson (IR# I247215) passed away in her home near Leslie, Sask., on April 24th. She had been born in 1876 in Grund in Jökuldalur in Norður-Múlasýsla. Her parents were Guðmundur Jónsson, of the Hauksstaðir and Hróaldsstaðir family in the Vopnafjördur, and Anna Margrét Þorsteinsdóttir, of the Melar family in Fljótsdalur. Anna was with her parents until she was 18. After that, she was 'more or less away from home for long periods’, and one winter she stayed in Reykjavík, learning to be a seamstress. Seamstresses were a new class of professional women who appeared in Iceland around 1860, and learning a trade like sewing was certainly a step towards increased autonomy. In spring 1903, Anna moved ‘to America’ with her sister, Jóna, where they settled in Winnipeg. She was then 27. In the winter of 1904–1905, she married Sigbjörn Sigbjörnsson from Vopnafjörður in Iceland, who survived her. ‘They lived in Winnipeg until 1908 when they settled down near Leslie.’ Anna had some well-placed family relations. The obituary bears witness to the importance of listing these relations:
apart from her sister, Jóna, who was married to Loftur Jörundsson, a master builder in Winnipeg, and her brother, Páll, who was a farmer in Leslie, it mentions another brother, Thorsteinn, who was ‘married to Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, the daughter of Jón from Sledbrjót, a Member of Parliament.’
The memory of Anna is also firmly placed in a nationalist discourse since she is depicted as one of the ‘most true Icelandic settlers’ of a generation that was now passing away. The obituary stated that Anna was a ‘rare woman’, being beautiful, intelligent, and popular. Of course, it can be difficult to interpret such statements, but it is clear that she had a talent that was highly regarded in the Icelandic community: she was skilled in verse–making and crafted ‘many a witty verse and poem’ when she was young in Iceland.
Clearly, she did not abandon this activity altogether when she moved to Canada, as she recited a poem of her own composition at a golden wedding in Leslie in 1946. She also seems to have engaged in discussions about contemporary Icelandic literature, as can be seen in a letter to her friends in which she expressed her opinion on the controversial novel Sjálfstætt fólk (Independent People) by the future Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness.
Anna seems not only to have been a woman with a talent for the written word, she had also relations among a kind of Icelandic ‘literary community’. In his book, The Saskatchewan Icelanders, Walter J. Lindal writes about Leslie in the early twentieth century, and states that it ‘became at once a cultural center and remained such for a number of years’. The reason for this, according to Lindal, was that several figures who lived there were ‘endowed with literary gifts much above the average in any community’ and they ‘led in creating a literary atmosphere which spread far beyond the limits of the district itself.’ One of the people he mentions was Mrs. Rannveig Sigbjörnsson, who was married to Anna’s brother-in-law. Anna had close family ties to other artists apart from Rannveig Sigbjörnsson. Her son, Haukur Stefánsson, became a painter and her brother, Björgvin Gudmundsson, the author of the obituary, was a composer. Anna Gudmundsdóttir Sigbjörnsson thus seems to have been a woman with considerable social and cultural capital.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
To see more information about Anna Sigríður, her family, emigration, census records, and more, go to the Icelandic Roots Database.